‘The Lesson’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happens To J.M. Sinclair?


The Lesson, directed by Alice Troughton, revolves around a young writer named Liam Somers, who is invited to tutor the son of recognized author J.M. Sinclair. Liam devoted a significant amount of his time to watching Sinclair’s interviews on YouTube, and he was in some way inspired by the man. Liam believed in the dedication that JM spoke about in becoming a writer. Sinclair categorized writers into three sections and he firmly believed that only the writers who stole managed to make it big. Liam’s thesis was inspired by J.M.’s work, and he was quite hopeful about getting to know the person he admired up close.

Spoiler Alert

Who was Felix?

Liam was appointed to tutor the celebrated novelist’s son, Bertie. He was a pale, shy young man who initially refused to open up to Liam. Bertie’s mother, Helene, believed her son needed extra guidance to begin his education at Oxford. Liam was impressed by the little he got to read of Bertie’s essays, but it took the young man some time to seek help from his tutor. We could pretty much guess how things would end when Helena asked Liam to sign an NDA and stated that she would prefer dealing with him directly than through his agency, but unlike us, Liam did not think much about it. Teaching Bertie was almost an excuse for Liam to watch his inspiration closely. Through the window of his room, Liam had a clear view of J.M.’s study, and he watched the man type relentlessly through the night. Liam, too, tried to keep up with him, but he ended up falling asleep. It was not easy being JM, and Liam realized that quickly.

Liam noticed the distance between Helene, JM, and Bertie. JM was mostly busy finishing his novel, and he always tended to impose his ideas and wishes on his wife and son. Bertie was almost afraid of his father. Even though he was talented, he had grown up to believe he was simply not good enough. JM humiliated Bertie one morning, stating that he was not going to make it big. Liam sympathized with Bertie, realizing the immense pressure and tension he was always living under. Losing his elder brother, Felix, had affected Bertie quite deeply. Felix was his constant companion, and to not have him around always reminded him of the void in his life. Helene appointed Liam because she believed he would at least be an intellectual companion for her son. 

The rhododendron flower in the garden reminded Bertie of his brother, and we later discover in The Lesson the connection between Felix and the rose tree in detail. Bertie was reminded of Felix’s obsession with the plant that was capable of destroying anything else that grew around it. It soon comes to light that Felix committed suicide by drowning, and both Helene and Bertie believe JM was responsible for his death.

How did J.M. break Liam’s confidence?

It was not easy for Liam to grab JM’s attention, but thankfully, his good memory came in handy. JM was impressed when he noticed how quickly Liam was able to refer to the text he had quoted in his work. Liam was also good with computers, and since JM did not have anyone to help him navigate technology, he was glad to have Liam around. Felix’s death had affected the seasoned writer, and as a result of his reaction at a talk show, the audience assumed that he would retire from writing. But for JM, writing was his duty, and he was hell-bent on serving another bestselling novel to the audience regardless of his state of mind.

JM needed the opinion of an outsider, and he wondered if Liam would help him with the final part of the novel. Liam readily agreed to proofread it. In exchange, Liam requested that JM take a look at his work, a novel he had been working on for quite some time. When the two met to debrief, Liam shared his unbiased opinion, calling the novel a masterpiece with an unimpressive ending. He believed that the third part needed more work and did not fit with the rest of the novel. JM did not take the criticism very well and reminded Liam that he was merely a tutor whose opinion mattered very little. Out of spite, JM stated that Liam was not worthy of being called a writer and that his novel was so below average that his reputation would be in jeopardy if he tried to convince his editor to take a look at it. Liam was completely heartbroken; he had great expectations from his work, especially from the man he thought could become his mentor. He tore apart pages of the novel and destroyed it completely.

Why did Liam decide to destroy J.M. Sinclair?

JM was aware that his words would leave a scar on Liam, yet he did not choose them wisely. Since Liam was under contract, he could not leave, and he had to watch the man who dismissed his work go about his routine as usual. JM went away to attend a conference, and Bertie, Helene, and Liam were at home together. The air inside the house seemed to feel lighter all of a sudden, with Bertie finally overcoming his fears and taking a dip in the lake. Helene, too, was in a good mood, and when Bertie left for a night out, she and Liam ended up spending the night together. Liam had watched JM make love to his wife, and there was an unforgettable eye contact between Helene and Liam that confirmed that an affair was bound to happen. It was no news for Helene that her husband had demeaned another writer to feel superior, and she further instigated Liam to find out the secrets JM was hiding, knowing well that the tutor would enjoy a good revenge.

Liam had noticed that JM’s computer was connected to the server in the next room that belonged to Felix. Upon opening the door of Felix’s room, Liam discovered that JM’s latest novel, “The Rose Tree,” was actually written by his son. Felix did not complete the novel, and JM had to come up with an appropriate ending to publish it. Had he not been the self-absorbed man he was, he would have published it under Felix’s name, but he stayed true to his theory that a great writer is an excellent thief. Once Liam realized that JM was a cheat, he was determined to destroy him. Liam deleted the soft copy from Felix’s desktop, and when JM returned home, he got hold of his car keys and grabbed the hard copy. JM was not on the verge of losing his mind when Liam claimed to have remembered the text almost by heart. JM and Liam spent the next few days working on the novel, and of course, not everything Liam wrote was exactly as it was before.

What led to J.M. Sinclair’s death?

In the end, Helene requests that Liam write the ending of the novel in his own way. She knew that it was Felix who wrote ‘The Rose Tree,’ and she could only trust Liam with the ending. Meanwhile, J.M. wrote his own ending. He and Liam got heavily drunk to celebrate the completion of the novel. For the first time, JM spoke about how he felt when he discovered Felix’s body in the lake. Instead of realizing how hurtful his words must have been, JM, in a way, blamed his son for not being tough enough to handle some ‘constructive criticism.’ A part of him regrets being hard on his son because, deep down, he was aware that it was he who pushed Felix to the edge. Liam was intoxicated, and he was done with the pretense. On their way to the lake, he accused JM of stealing the work of his son, but the arrogant writer continued to claim that he was the one who had helped his son get the novel right, and he came up with the ending as well; therefore, he had all the rights to call the novel his.

The Lesson ends with Liam admitting to deleting the soft copy and destroying the printed version of it. JM reacted violently when Liam added that he had slept with his wife. JM attempted to drown Liam in the lake, but the tutor managed to escape. JM watched his wife and butler help the guest, but no one cared to offer him a hand. At that moment, we can assume that JM realized that he had lost his family’s trust. They knew all about his lies, and they hated him for destroying Felix. Maybe the fear of being a fraud caught up with JM, and he decided it was time for him to leave. Just like Felix, J.M. drowned and died that morning.

This was the ending Helene had been looking forward to for a long time. Liam realized that he played according to Helene’s plan. She did not invite him to tutor her son but to help her get to the truth. Was everything a little too convenient for Helene? Yes, but we are asked to believe that was how everything panned out. Helene chose Liam’s ending over JM’s, but his name would not be published. Liam had signed an NDA, and if he dared to speak about the suicide/murder, Helene promised to villainize him in public. Liam did not have any options, and the only silver lining was that he lived through an incredible experience, and he now had a story to tell. 

Liam eventually wrote a novel about a patriarch and his grieving family, and Bertie was in the audience to support him. The Lesson‘s ending suggests that the truth never surfaced, and everyone got their happy ending except for JM. The patriarch was so obsessed with himself and his work that he failed to see how he was suffocating his family. He always called Helene “the missing mother” because she was away when her son died, reminding her of her shortcomings and blissfully ignoring his mistakes. Helene was perhaps afraid that he would do the same to Bertie. JM felt insecure about his sons, or anyone else, for that matter, who wrote better than he did, and his fear often made him say the most unkind words. In the end, JM was the rose tree of his family, and only by getting rid of him could the rest grow. 

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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